Senator Obert Gutu, theMDC-T deputy Minister of Justice, says Zimbabwe is a very long way from having what could be called any sort of level playing field for holding elections. He speaks to SW Radio Africa journalist Tichaona Sibanda.
Interview broadcast 27 December 2011
Tichaona Sibanda: Hello Zimbabwe and welcome to this special festive season programme, Election Watch 2012. My name isTichaona Sibanda and my guest on the programme is Senator Obert Gutu, the deputy Minister of Justice and Provincial spokesperson for theMDC-T, Harare Province. Senator; good day and welcome to the programme.
Obert Gutu: Thank youTich, good day and thank you for having me.
Sibanda: You’re welcome. As we draw close to the end of 2011 we are hearing increasingly of talk of an election in 2012 which everyone expects to be free and fair. But where are we as far as electoral reforms are concerned for Zimbabwe to hold elections that will not be disputed if at all we have them next year?
Gutu: That is a very good questionTichaona, the problem we have in this country is that there’s a lot of misinformation and also disinformation. Most of the time it is actually deliberate misinformation.
The position is that we are still a very long way from having what one might want to call a level playing field for the purpose of holding an election that will pass the test of legitimacy.
By so meaning what I’m simply stating is that we still have a long way to – for instance the Electoral Amendment Bill has not yet been tabled in the Parliament of Zimbabwe; we are still having issues to do with certain aspects of the Bill that obviously have to be dealt with at a political level before the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs pilots the Bill through both Houses of Parliament.
We also have the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission as you know Bill, that has gone through the first reading stage in the House of Assembly and is still stuck at that stage because again there are certain political issues that have to be agreed upon, with particular reference to the issue of the dates which the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission should start to investigate issues pertaining to human rights.
Some people’s argument is that look, it should start investigating all human rights issues starting from the formation of the inclusive government which is February 2009 and some people, and I’m one of those people, do believe that the Human Rights Commission should actually start investigating matters, all human rights matters starting from the time that Zimbabwe attained independence i.e. 18 April 1980.
So there are a lot of those issues which are very, very contentious, extremely contentious that; have to be looked into. Same applies to the issue of the Electoral Amendment Bill. There’s a lot of argument around the polling station-based voting system.
Basically what one might want to say a voter would only be allowed to vote at a particular polling station, so that if you stay in a Ward, and even if there are about five or so polling stations in your Ward, you can only go and vote, you can only go and vote at the particular polling station that you registered for.
We are saying asMDCit will give us all sorts of problems particularly in rural communities because it will open the way for intimidation where people will simply be told to say look, at polling station A at Ward One or whatever, we want every village head, every Sabhuku to bring his people so that we know how many people come to vote.
It will be easy to victimize people because you will be told to say look we know that these are the number of people who are going to vote at this polling station or who are registered to vote here and if Zanu PF loses, then we know what happened, we know that you people didn’t vote for Zanu PF in this particular Ward at this particular polling station and people can be victimized, particularly in the rural areas.
So we are saying asMDC, it’s better to have the system that we used in 2008 – that as long as you are a registered voter in a particular Ward you don’t have to go to a particular designated polling station in your Ward, you can go to any polling station as long as it is in your Ward.
We think that that way, people particularly in rural areas, you can still say look the polling station nearest my house, if I feel uncomfortable voting there, I’ll go to the next as long as it is in our Ward, we think it’s safer, it’s a good guarantee against intimidation.
Sibanda: Still on the voters’ roll Senator, NGOs like the Zimbabwe Election Support Network have said the voters’ roll should be the sole responsibility of ZEC and not a shared job with the Registrar General’s Office which in the past has been responsible for the country’s flawed electoral register.
Now civil society organizations argue that an accurate, credible voters’ register is a pre-requisite for free and fair elections – what is your opinion on that?
Gutu: I do actually agree with that point of viewTich because when you look at the present voters’ roll in Zimbabwe, if at all it qualifies to be called a voters’ roll, it’s in a shambolic state. Why I say so is because if you go to inspect a voters’ roll in any Ward you will be surprised by the number of deceased voters whose name still appear on the voters’ roll.
I remember in 2008, I remember particularly the case of Mount Pleasant. Why Mount Pleasant? Because Mount Pleasant has got a special interest to me because Mount Pleasant falls under my Senatorial constituency of Chisipite in Harare – I remember we came across about 38 names of people who were born between 1890 and 1901 so which would mean that those people as at 2008 they were aged around 120 years, 115 years and obviously I don’t want to believe that those people are still alive.
So I’m just giving you an example of how shambolic the voters’ roll is and I’m told this kind of problem of deceased voters still appearing on the voters’ roll is replicated throughout the country.
And you also see that people sometimes have voters who appear on the voters’ roll whose ages are ridiculously low – like you have a two year old, there was this is example of a child was born in 2003 whose name was appearing on the voters’ roll for 2008.
I mean you have those kind of ludicrous examples if I may call it that and you are saying look how can you possibly think you are going to have a legitimate free and fair election when the voters’ roll itself is in such a shambolic state?
So I do agree with those civic society organizations and with all political analysts, and with all politicians who argue that we should have ZEC capacitated to commence a fresh registration, voter registration exercise and that we cannot rely on Mr Mudede’s voters’ roll which over the years has been proven to be so shambolic as to be a piece of document that can only be worthy of being thrown out of the window. We have to start all over again.
Sibanda: Some months back Senator Gutu we reported that proposed changes to the Electoral laws were likely to hit a brick wall following suspicions that the new set of rules would only benefit Zanu PF. Is this still the case because of major concern to civil society groups is the proposal by Justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, a Zanu PF hardliner, to ban civic participation in voter education?
Gutu: I see that actually being, I can almost call it a deal-breaker in as far as leveling the electoral playing field is concerned because when you look at the Zanu PF side of government, there is a general dislike and a mistrust of non-governmental organizations. I mean as a matter of principal, Zanu PF generally distrusts civic organizations, more so those organizations that are active in the field of human rights.
I’m pointing out here to organizations like ZimRights, organizations like ZESN, Zimbabwe Election Support Network, organizations like Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, organizations like NANGO – any organization whose mandate touches on matters to do with issues of governance and or human rights, Zanu PF is pretty uncomfortable with that.
And I understand why because the whole issue is that Zanu PF is scared of losing power. They can see it coming; they can smell defeat so what they are trying to do now is to come up with all tricks under the sun to try to block the democratic train from moving ahead.
So you will notice that they are keen in having all other non-governmental players not being given opportunity to carry out voter registration.
But obviously, in a country like Zimbabwe, that is unworkable because look, you know that we are always complaining about issues of low budgeting, underfunding and the government simply doesn’t have money to go out there and be able to carry out a massive, unbiased and impartial and effective voter conscientization and voter education exercise.
Sibanda: Now only recently Zambia held their elections and I think as Zimbabweans we can learn a lot from that…in particular, regarding the peaceful transfer of executive power.
Analysts have said MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai actually won the 2008 Presidential election but was unable to win power. What sort of mechanisms are in the draft or proposals that; are to be contained in the draft that will ensure a smooth transfer of power in the next poll?
Gutu: Yes I think what you’re working on now,Tich, is a situation where the constitution that we are going to come up with, I’m sure that the drafters are very mindful of that need. i.e. the need to ensure that there is a smooth transfer of power from the loser to the winner because the problem that we have is, we have a situation where winning an election in Zimbabwe does not necessarily guarantee you, does not necessarily guarantee you getting into power.
Like the 2008 example, it was very; very clear that Dr Tsvangirai won that election hands down. Everyone knows that, Zanu PF know that. Everyone in Zimbabwe they know that Zanu PF lost, their candidate lost the 2008 presidential elections but the problem that we have is that because there was no mechanism to ensure a smooth, peaceful and non-violent transfer of power from the incumbent to the winner, we ended up having an inclusive government.
This unworkable arrangement that we have presently so I would like to believe that the three main drafters of the present constitution, of the COPAC driven constitution making process are mindful of the fact that we should have certain definite and very clear, very unambiguous clauses in the new constitutional document that clearly set out what has to happen, what has to take place rather when there is need for a transfer of power from an outgoing administration which has lost an election and an incoming administration which would have won an election. I believe that the drafters are mindful of that
Sibanda: The reason why I asked that question Minister is because I remember that when Chinamasa first brought up the proposed draft he was seeking to have the results of the elections announced by the head of the ZEC secretariat and not the Chairman, Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe as is the norm in other Sadc countries.
Gutu: Yes. From the way I look at it, I don’t think Honourable Chinamasa’s suggestion will see the light of day because as you know, Zimbabwe is a member of Sadc and we have got what we call Sadc norms and standards of holding free and fair elections and one of the key aspects or one of the key provisions of those Sadc norms and standards for free and fair election, for the holding of a free and fair election is to have an independent and non-partisan electoral commission.
And it’s also standard practice now within Sadc; not only within Sadc but internationally that the electoral body should be mandated with the whole electoral process – from voter registration, from conducting the election, from counting the votes and from announcing the results so it follows that we won’t agree with his suggestion.
Sibanda: But there’s fear that the same electoral body contains a lot of CIOs and military guys – what are you going to do about that?
Gutu: That’s a very good questionTich. I think what we are going to do and this will be made very, very clear, I’m sure the Prime Minister, right Honourable Dr Morgan Tsvangirai has been very clear on that, to say we want the ZEC Secretariat to be cleansed. We are saying as a party, as the largest and most popular political party in Zimbabwe at the moment, we are saying that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission should have a Secretariat that is non-political, a Secretariat that is not constituted of state operatives or agents of the secret police or the secret service, we want genuine and legitimate people to constitute the Secretariat of the ZEC and I believe that it is one of the key requirements before Zimbabwe can have a free and fair election.
Because right now, if you are going to hurry, dash things and go for an election in Zimbabwe with things as they are, we are going to have a replay of June 2008. We are actually going to have violence at an unprecedented level because Zanu PF is more unpopular now than it was three years ago in 2008 and they are acutely aware of that.
Zanu PF doesn’t want to give up power voluntarily and Zanu PF will use all methods, conventional and unconventional to make sure that they hold onto power. So we are aware that they are reluctant to have the electoral playing field evened out because they know that once they do that they know they are going to face a crushing and humiliating defeat come the next election.
Sibanda: Right at the beginning of the programme Senator, you told me that a lot needs to be done to ensure we have an election that is not contested at all and I’m sure you’ve had an opportunity to go through the proposed document. Would you say you are happy with what is contained in the draft itself or as you said, there’s still a lot to be done?
Gutu: I actually thinkTich and to all listeners that I will actually put my head on the block and say that we right now as we are talking, right now the situation is very uneven; there’s a total blackout of allMDC activities on national television or what is supposed to be national television, it is effectively a Zanu PF propaganda television, a propaganda mouthpiece, there is a total blackout on all activities, not only theMDC led by Dr Tsvangirai but of all other political players and you are saying, one of the key conditions for a free and fair election is to have all political parties and all political players having equal and unfettered access to the national broadcaster.
And in this case all the activities for instance that we do as a party, we had a big rally in Harare in early December, (2011) it was not covered, not even by the Herald although we invite them, not even by the ZTV although we invite them and all the major rallies that have been covered, the peace rallies, by our president, Dr Tsvangirai, very few if any of them have been covered on TV.
If at all they are covered, they will just be short snippets; that are twisted and spinned to lampoon our leader, to just portray him as somebody who is violent, who can’t be trusted and you can’t call that equal access to national television or to the public broadcaster.
So as it is now if we are going to have to go to an election, of course we as theMDCwill win but the issue is we are going to have an election that is going to be bloody, an election that will be anything but free and fair, and an election whose results are most likely to be contestable and this is what we are trying to avoid.
Sibanda: So what is the major stumbling block in Zimbabwe having a free and fair election?
Gutu: I think the major stumbling blocks are very clear. We are saying to Zanu PF, our hostile partners in this so-called inclusive government, we want a situation where all political players, not only theMDC led by Dr Tsvangirai, we are saying all political players in this country should be treated as genuine and legitimate political parties.
And we are saying we should do away with this issue of hate language on national radio stations, on national television. We should do away with violence as a tool for political mobilization because as you know, Zanu PF and violence are synonymous.
They might say we are preaching anti-violence messages but I can bet you my bottom dollar, I can tell the listeners here now, that Zanu PF and violence are like Siamese twins, they are inseparable, so to the extent that Zanu PF cannot extricate itself from this DNA of violence, intimidation and thuggery. I don’t see how Zimbabwe can have a free and fair election.
So at the end of the day the main culprit is Zanu PF, everybody knows that and the few incidents whereMDCis involved in violence is normally reactive violence, when our supporters are being beaten up, when our supporters are being mistreated, when our supporters are just being given a hard time so them being human beings, sometimes they would obviously want to respond, they will actually react and defend or want to defend themselves.
So I would say that for as long as Zanu PF remains with this tenacious hold on instruments of state power like the police, the CIO, the army, the prison services and also the national radio stations and the national television station, we’ll never have a free and fair election in Zimbabwe, never, I can bet my bottom dollar on that one.
Sibanda: Lastly Senator, you are a minister in an inclusive government that has survived by the grace of God, do you have any positives for 2012?
Gutu: Going forward to 2012, I actually look at a situation Tich and I can tell the listeners now that I’m confident that a new constitution for Zimbabwe is going to be enacted and approved by the people at the national referendum some dates or some month in 2012 and I am confident, I’m pretty upbeat because I believe that Zimbabwe can never go backwards.
I believe that we can only but be doing better going forward and I’m confident that come next year, at least we are going to have a new constitution and I believe that although there are people who are going to campaign for a ‘no’ vote I don’t see the ‘no’ vote succeeding so I think the most significant achievement that we are looking forward to in 2012 will be the adoption of a new constitution for Zimbabwe for the first time since Independence from Britain in 1980.
Sibanda: Well on that note Senator Obert Gutu, thank you so much for taking your time to talk to us on this special festive season programme Election Watch 2012.
Gutu: Thank you.